Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens announced this week he has joined the bipartisan effort to ask Congress to give local governments the authority to prosecute managers of websites that list classified ads offering underage sex.
Olens said it is time to stop shielding those who profit from child sex slaves by amending the federal Communication Decency Act. The act, authored in 1996, gives immunity to websites such as Craigslist and backpage.com that claim regulating ad content violates the First Amendment right to free speech.
U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Marietta) discussed the proposed amendment with Olens Friday morning. Gingrey thanked Olens for his work with other attorneys general to identify the loophole protecting Internet predators.
“The buying and selling of anyone — but of children especially — is a violation so deplorable it is difficult to fathom. But only by shining a light on this depravity will we end this scourge and save untold victims,” Gingrey said.
The crime of distributing child sex over the Internet recently hit home in Cobb County.
On July 17, based on a lead by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, which monitors online chat rooms and websites, Cobb County police arrested an east Cobb man on three counts of distributing child pornography and sexual exploitation of a child.
J. Todd Skrabanek, 46, who played piano with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chamber Chorus and gave music lessons to area children, was charged with distributing an image of a 1-year old girl being sexual assaulted by an adult man and other videos with minors performing sex acts on adult men.
This case adds to the 175 arrests made so far this year by Cobb County’s Crimes Against Children Unit. That number exceeds arrests made in 2012, when the unit made 165 arrests.
The unit includes three supervisors and nine detectives, a level of staffing that has remained steady over the last five years. The unit investigates sexual offenses involving juveniles, including Internet crimes and the commercial sexual exploitation of children.
The increase in child sex crimes has Cobb County Police Department thinking of ways to be proactive. The department will offer two seminars in August on Internet safety.
A presentation on the sexual exploitation of children is for teens, teachers and parents, said Lt. Everett Cebula, who heads the Crimes Against Children Unit.
A list of warning signs will be given to help educators be aware of when a child is part of the sex trade, including recurring absences from class and always being tired or hungry.
The seminars will give tips on how to warn children about the dangers of social media. “Parents are just floored by the amount of access predators have just through Internet contact,” Cebula said.
He cautioned that mobile devices and even game consoles connected online can be used to lure minors from home.
Hub for trafficking
More than 400 adolescent girls are prostituted every month in Georgia on the streets, through escort services, at major hotel chains and online, according to a 2009 research study by The Schapiro Group.
The report states, “each adolescent female is exploited an average of three times per day.”
“Human trafficking is a worldwide epidemic that must be fought and eradicated on every level, from the suppliers on down. Because of Atlanta’s location, airport and infrastructure, the FBI identified it as one of the top sex trafficking hubs in the United States,” Gingrey said.
In 2005, the FBI established a Child Exploitation Task Force in Georgia. Five officers with the Cobb Police Department are assigned to the task force.
Although committing sex acts with children is a federal crime, the proposed amendment could open a channel for states to go after child sex rings by charging the operators of websites that aid prostitution, Olens said.
“Investigators regularly find links between the commercial sale of children and the ads,” Olens said.
Olens said managers of the sites are aware that words like “young” and “tender” are being used to encourage the buying and selling of children.
The attorneys’ letter to Congress specifically points a finger to backpage.com. An ad listed in the “adult jobs” section on backpage.com states, “Blondes and Brunettes needed for adult work — $200/hr. and up,” with the location tagged as northwest Georgia.
An Atlanta posting from July 16 advertises for two positions that will completely change the women’s lives. It adds “young only” and “must be loyal.”
Breaking the cycle
Cebula said the majority of child prostitutes are local girls from broken families with molestation or abuse in the home.
Once a minor decides to live on the streets, predators approach the girl within 48 hours, Cebula said, manipulating the victim through isolation, economic dependence, drug use and emotional abuse.
“A lot of them rely on their pimps for everything they could possibly need,” Cebula said.
The loyalty makes it hard for investigators to break through the bond in order to build a criminal case, which could take a year or two to reach a trial that requires the victim to testify.
The major focus, according to Cebula, is to help victims of sex slavery get out of the business by placing them in a safe housing situation, like Georgia Care Connection or Wellspring Living, an organization southwest of Atlanta that provides a place where survivors can heal from past sexual trauma and start a new life.
“We aren’t so much trying to arrest the pimp, but get these girls off the street,” Cebula said.
Cebula said if beds are not available with these groups the only other option is to hold the minor in a juvenile detention center as a runaway.
HOW TO PROTECT YOUR CHILDREN
The Cobb County Police Department is offering two upcoming seminars in August for parents, teachers and teens on how to protect families from Internet predators.
• When: Aug. 22 and Aug. 26, 7-9 p.m.
• Where: Cobb County Safety Village, 1220 Al Bishop Drive, Marietta
• Cost: Free; registration is required
• To register or for more info: Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (770) 852-3270
Crimes Against Children arrests in Cobb soar in first half of 2013
2009 ------- 217
2010 ------- 197
2011 ------- 175
2012 ------- 165
2013* ------ 175
*As of June